Report written by Sammy Roach
Both the federal government and post-secondary institutions across the nation have been making efforts to double the amount of international students entering Canada, in part due to concerns about Canada’s low birthrate. What are the impacts on both the Canadian students and the international students themselves? What is impact on the international students’ home countries? On January 19, 2017, the LYAC held a discussion on international students, led by Ward 6 Youth Councilor Grace Wu.
Grace opened the discussion by asking the group: If you could travel anywhere, where would you go? Here are some of the answers:
- Iceland, for the scenery
- Denmark, for their history of interesting design and progressive social policies
- Ireland, for heritage reasons
- Mongolia, England, and Egypt were also brought up as destinations
Grace divided her meeting into 3 parts to coincide with 3 phases of an international student’s journey: Socialization, Adjusting, and Adjourning. In the Socialization section of the conversation, Grace sparked some initial thoughts and impressions of international students and discussed some of the students’ motivations for choosing to study in Canada.
What are some of your assumptions of international students?
- Some members of group shared a common impression of international students as very rich people, usually fairly well off, driving a BMW or Mercedes Benz.
- Another common impression is that international students are ambitious and brave in making the decision to leave their family for a whole new country.
Why do international students come to Canada? Some noted lower tuition along with a better student experience. Canada gets marketed as a great nation to live in. One group member explained that some students are extremely unmotivated when they come to Canada because they are forced into international education by their parents. Some students just come to party. Another group member explained a sentiment she notices of people thinking that international students must use their time well because they are “here on our time.” She herself sees no problem with students having fun while they are here. This is linked to a notion of holding international students more accountable- that attitude of “hey, you’re using my stuff.” Grace noted that her friends don’t really go to clubs – many of them spend most of their time in the university libraries.
Grace spoke about the Homestay program, in which an international student younger than 19 stays with a host family. She asked the group: Would you convince your family to host an international student? The group noted interest but also the risk in that you are not sure who the person is until they get there.
In this phase of the conversation, Grace spoke about the process of adjusting, both in the ways that universities are adjusting to international students, and in how international students are adjusting to life in Canada.
Grace noted that different faculties within universities are changing to accommodate international students. One example is allowing dictionaries to be brought into final exams. She asked the group: Is it fair to give international students advantages?
- The use of tools for help should be proficiency-based, though proficiency is sometimes hard to determine.
- The use of a dictionary and thesaurus should be open to everyone since it doesn’t fundamentally alter the structure of what you are creating, which is what you are being marked on.
- We accommodate people with other barriers, so accommodating a language barrier shouldn’t be that much of a stretch
The language barrier can be a definite issue for international students. Grace shared that the international students themselves find the language barrier as a huge barrier to their success. Facilitator Matt studied abroad in Hong Kong, and he noted that the students he worked with were worried that he would make fun of their English-language skills. Certainly on the level of academia, there are uses of complex language that may be beyond a student’s proficiency. Grace brought up another concern: How do you form a deep friendship when there is a language barrier? You can only get so far using alternative means of communication such as pointing or drawing to get the message across.
The social barrier led to the next challenge for international students that Grace addressed. International students can struggle with finding social networks that help them know what’s going on in London. Here were some of the group’s thoughts:
- The primary responsibility for helping international students make networks and adjust to life in London should be on the university, since the university gets a direct benefit from the students due to their high tuition.
- There are definitely barriers to volunteering out in the community with things like police checks and certifications.
- Western should try and and help get international students more involved in the community.
In this phase of the conversation, Grace spoke about what happens after international students complete their education and enter the workforce. International study adds more points when students are looking to immigrate to Canada, and they are able to attain a work visa after graduation.
One of the fears that can pop up again and again when looking at immigration is the fear of losing jobs. Grace asked the group: Do you consider international students a threat?
- No- if someone is better than you at something, they are better than you, regardless of where they are from.
- International students are working very hard to be here, and they deserve a fair shot rather than being blamed for employment issues.
- Canadians have a privileged position going into a job, they already have an advantage and it’s not fair to blame international students
- Having international students in the workforce helps Canada to grow.
These thoughts of international students helping Canada to grow introduced a new tangent, and the conversation took a sharp turn at this point to an issue we had not addressed yet. We had talked about the issues of making international students feel welcome in Canada and helping them to get connected, but what about the impact on the countries the students are coming from? Here are some of the group’s thoughts:
- Taking top talents from other countries deprives those countries of their hardworking population – a phenomenon known as brain drain. This is an issue with have in Canada as well, particularly with doctors moving to the United States. Canada is perhaps doing harm to developing countries in particular through brain drain, as more and more international students are choosing to stay in Canada.
- However, students are put in a position where they may have more opportunities and resources to grow. They can take that talent to help improve the home countries and the world.
- How do countries bring the students back after they graduate? The countries may not have the resources to use students’ education to their full potential.
- India and China have some of the best universities in the world. If students want to live and study in Canada instead, they should be able to do that.
The final topic opened up a whole new side of the conversation with not a lot of easy answers, but the evening was coming to a close. Grace closed the meeting by encouraging the group to reach out to international students – ask them questions about themselves and their lives and make those connections.
- Where do our perceptions of international students come from?
- Is the push to bring more international students causing a brain drain for other countries?
- How do countries grow their resources if their top talents leave for countries with greater resources?
- Grace noted that the reason she asked the opening question is to remind us that we are living in a globalized world. Everyone wants to travel and experience different things. While as Canadian, we want to travel anywhere, other people from other parts of the world also want to come to Canada and learn more about it. International students are one of them.